Mar27

Opinion: It’s time to face facts - Pokémon GO is full of loot boxes

Earlier this month, John Walker wrote an article for Kotaku entitled Pokemon Go's Eggs Aren't Lootboxes, They're Fun Presents”. In this article, John in effect tried to convince readers that something that walks like a Psyduck, quacks like a Psyduck, and holds its head in pain like a Psyduck, is in fact not a Psyduck. It didn’t take long until for the article to attract appropriate derision for its arguments, including from gaming luminaries like Jim Sterling. But what really concerns me is that John’s arguments also attracted a large defence force of people who, quite frankly, seemed to take personal offense at the idea that a mechanic they used in a game they enjoyed could possibly be a loot box. So with that in mind, I think it’s time we all had a bit of a chat about Pokémon GO’s various forms of loot boxes, why John’s claim that they're not loot boxes is just flat out wrong, and why these being loot boxes is something we shouldn’t be in denial over.

What is a “loot box” anyway?
The term “loot box” has been used as a loose, catch all term for a variety of monetization mechanics based around an individual paying, either directly or indirectly to receive a randomized item or set of items. One stereotypical example of this would be the Sync Pair Scout of Pokémon Masters EX, where players pay to recruit new characters using an in-game currency (gems) that can be obtained by either paying money, or through gameplay (in limited quantities). Depending on the game, the items found in loot boxes might include things such as characters, equipment, and consumables. These need not necessarily give the player any sort of in-game advantage, and several games do sustain themselves entirely on loot boxes containing only cosmetic items to change a player’s appearance.

Loot boxes, and how these are doled out to players (including those players who only purchase them after collecting enough “free” in-game currency to do so), is an application of instrumental conditioning, also known as operant conditioning. This is a form of conditioning whereby an individual learns to perform behaviours that produce positive outcomes and avoid those yielding negative outcomes. Whereas classical conditioning (such as with Pavlov’s famous experiment with Dogs) results in involuntarily, simple responses, instrumentally conditioned behaviours can be deliberate, complex behaviours to obtain some goal. Specifically, loot boxes are an example of positive reinforcement, whereby the behaviour (purchasing a loot box) is strengthened and reinforced by a reward (the loot box provides desirable items). Much as with slot machines, this is a variable-ratio reinforcement, where the individuals performing the behaviour know that they can eventually get the desired reward so long as they continue the behaviour, but have no idea how many times the behaviour must be performed in order to get the reward. Also similar to slot machines, receiving the reward is often also a sensory experience, with many games going out of their way to provide things like mini-cut scenes when players obtain rare items. Many loot box systems further complicate things by adding in an additional motivating factor with a fear-of-missing-out, with certain rewards only available on a limited time basis, and with no indication given of when, if ever, they will be available again in the future.

As an aside, though the term “loot box” is typically only applied in a video gaming context, most commonly with so-called free-to-play (F2P) games, the exact same mechanics can also be observed in a range of physical products as well, including capsule toy (the gashapon that “gacha” mechanics get their name from, and which inspired Pokémon’s original name of Capsule Monsters) machines, lucky dips, and even things like Kinder Surprise Eggs and packets of TCG cards.

Pokémon GO’s Variety of Loot Boxes
The entire core gameplay loop of Pokémon GO is effectively built around the convergence of multiple random chance systems. John himself acknowledged this in his article, stating “Pokémon GO is a game made of random chances from the ground up”. But then he had to follow that up with the ludicrous claim that Pokémon GO doesn’t represent a “cynical F2P exploitation model”. Now, I’ll grant you that maybe they’ve gone out of their way to design these systems in such a way that it doesn't meet a very precisely worded definition of a loot box as might be used by the iPadOS App Store or Google Play Store, or by countries like Belgium and The Netherlands, but that's just evidence of a non-standard design. So ultimately, regardless of whatever you might call it a loot box, or a gatcha, or a lucky dip, or locked crates, or whatever, by the spirit of what loot boxes are, all of these systems are all absolutely examples of what we can consider a loot box. And yes, by all these systems, I do mean all of them. It’s no exaggeration to say that Pokémon GO’s entire gameplay loop is really just a compulsion loop of loot box systems.

Catching
Let’s start not with hatching Pokémon, but catching them. Because yes, catching Pokémon in Pokémon GO does effectively function as a form of loot box. In fact, it’s even worse than your typical loot box. With a typical loot box, you would spend a set value of currency, items, and/or time, and you’d have a guaranteed set minimum return for that spend. By contrast, Pokémon GO requires you to spend an unknown number of items (balls, berries, etc) and time to just possibly catch a Pokémon. There’s a chance that, despite expending many balls and berries, the Pokémon is going to run away from you. While you can obtain these items through gameplay via PokéStops (and we’ll come back to those in a bit), these items can also be purchased through the in-game store using in-game coins that you’ve paid real world money for.

The only degree of control that players have over what Pokémon appear for catching are through items such as Incense, Lure Modules, and Raid Passes. While it’s possible to receive a limited amount of these through gameplay, it’s far easier for players to obtain them through paying at the shop. While these items themselves aren’t loot boxes, given that you’re spending an item in order to gain more opportunities to potentially catch a Pokémon, they can be thought of as effectively the equivalent of a gambler being able to pay for the right to have more opportunities to gamble. By buying more raid passes for instance, you improve your odds of being able to potentially catch the Pokémon that you want. The one exception to this is the ironically named Mystery Box, where the only way to get additional uses is to transfer Pokémon from GO to Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu!, Let's Go, Eevee!, or Pokémon HOME. Of course, you need to have paid for those games to use this Mystery Box mechanic, so even if it's not a microtransaction you're still out of pocket for it.

The potential for failure with catching is compounded by the inclusion of a skill mechanism. While there’s still going to be a chance of failure for everyone, a more highly skilled player will on average use less items. You might argue that the skill mechanism involved is simply "basic motor control", and that anyone could “get good” with enough practice, however that’s a very ableist way to look at things. Pokémon GO attracts players from a number of vulnerable consumer groups, including young, elderly, and disabled players, all who this skill mechanism places at a disadvantage, and who on balance will need to use more items in catching Pokémon, and thus be put in a situation more frequently where they might need to pay for items.

Pokémon GO’s catching mechanic also fails to give the same level of information about odds to the player as other loot boxes. While this might not seem a big deal to a lot of players, both the iPadOS App Store and Google Play do require games including loot boxes to prominently display odds in game. It should be noted Pokémon GO does in a way make some odds about the kind of Pokémon available visible to the user in real-time, just not in a numerical format. That is to say, you can see what's on your map, so you know what Pokémon you could catch at any given moment. What isn’t displayed however are the quality of said Pokémon’s stats. There’s no way to tell before you try to catch it if any given Pokémon will be the Pokémon GO equivalent of a common, uncommon, or rare. You just have to catch it and hope it’s got good enough stats that it’s not going to be relegated to candy fodder. Outside of raid Pokémon and Pokémon appearing due to events, players also don’t have a clear indication of what it is they have to do to make a certain Pokémon available. This is one area in which the game has in fact regressed since launch. While it’s to some extent understandable that they’d want to move Pokémon around to give more people more opportunities to catch different species, trainers no longer can rely on being able to go to certain areas around town where you knew certain rare Pokémon would frequently appear.

Hatching
Pokémon GO's hatching mechanic ticks a lot of the same boxes, and is more of a traditional kind of loot box than catching. For this, you spend a known number of items (a use of an Egg Incubator) to have a 100% chance of gaining a Pokémon. While you can obtain incubators through gameplay via level ups, and there have also been a few rare special events where they were available via PokéStops, incubators are most easily obtained by purchasing them using real money. Because you can only hold 12 Eggs at once, the incubator mechanic does to some extent limit the amount of money a person might be able to spend on these at once, since there’s only so many incubators that you’re going to need on hand at any given point in time, and paying more can only make things quicker up to a point. But therein lies a double-edged sword, because just as with the catching mechanic, hatching Pokémon has actually gotten worse from a loot box perspective since the launch of the game. While at the beginning, Eggs all hatched at a consistent rate, Niantic introduced the Super Incubator to the game in August 2017 which hatches Eggs faster than the normal rate. This means that there’s a very clear advantage for paying players over free players with this mechanic, as they can guarantee themselves the ability to hatch eggs faster than those players reliant on the generosity of PokéStops.

Much as with catching, hatching also has its own skill mechanic. Namely, how long a distance a player can travel on their own power in a given period of time. The quicker a player can move, the more Eggs they can hatch. While the marketing for the game will tell you this is all about encouraging people to exercise more, it once again puts certain groups of vulnerable consumers at a disadvantage. Young, elderly, and disabled players are all likely to be moving at slower speeds, and thus will on average hatch less Eggs. Just like with catching, this places these more vulnerable players in a situation where they may be more tempted to pay for things like the Super Incubator, so they can keep up with other players who are more able to walk around on their own.

Hatching also has similar issues when it comes to the display of odds. While upcoming changes will start to give players more transparency about exactly which Pokémon they might receive from an Egg, players will still have no real control over which Eggs they receive, only which ones they hatch. You may have some awareness about the potential types of Pokémon currently available from Eggs due to certain events, etc, but ultimately you have no guarantee on either type or quality of Pokémon Eggs that you’re going to get. And if there is some event giving improved odds to get certain Pokémon Eggs… that 12 Egg limit means you’re probably going to have to make space for those Eggs first by hatching the ones you already have. So yes, that Niantic is planning to start telling us what’s in our Pokémon Eggs is certainly an improvement, but it doesn’t mean they’re not still the digital equivalent of a Kinder Surprise Egg (only with probably worse odds of getting what you want from them).

PokéStops
Speaking of PokéStops, you guessed it, they’re basically loot boxes too. Now, you might be wondering how these constitute a loot box when you only get them for free in the course of regular play. But it’s actually quite common for many “gatcha” styled games to include free pulls at some regular rate. Pokémon Masters EX for instance has its free daily 10 pull, Fire Emblem Heroes has the free summon per banner, and Fate/Grand Order has its daily summon and friend point summons. Pokémon GO’s PokéStops work a little differently, in that rather than being an outside system to help push the gameplay loop (designed to get you hooked enough into mechanics for character improvement to start pay for them), Niantic has made (ir)regular encounters of PokéStops in the course of normal gameplay a part of the core gameplay loop itself. As items like Pokéballs, Incubators, etc, are required in order to engage with the main gameplay loop, your only option to play the game without collecting these loot boxes would be to pay for those items. A problem perhaps all too familiar to some people living in rural areas who may not have had the same access to PokéStops. This necessarily means that Pokémon GO has to give players a bit more ability to control how often they may be able to obtain these loot boxes than most games. At the same time though, you’re still receiving a random selection of items from each PokéStop, with no control over which ones you’re getting. Each item you receive is itself also a prompt to encourage you to try the other loot boxes. You literally cannot decide to, say, never receive any Eggs from PokéStops.

Being a “fun present” doesn’t mean it’s not a Loot Box
John’s arguments that hatching doesn’t constitute a loot box essentially comes down to a few core points. That
  1. They don’t offer meaningful advantages
  2. You don’t have to spend money to get them, and
  3. It’s entirely optional to spend money.
As it happens, those are pretty much the exact same talking points that happens Kerry Hopkins, then Vice President for Legal and Government Affairs for Electronic Arts, used when they fronted the United Kingdom’s Parliament to claim that loot boxes didn’t constitute gambling. So that’s not a good start for John right there. But John’s arguments also seem to completely miss the point of Pokémon GO’s core gameplay loop. So, let’s address these one by one.

First, John claims that hatching doesn’t offer a meaningful advantage. To which I’d say…. the whole point of Pokémon GO is to get more Pokémon, isn’t it? Pokémon that can be used to battle for the bragging rights of your team? That a single Pokémon might not necessarily give a meaningful advantage on its own doesn’t mean that the acquisition of that Pokémon (through catching or hatching) doesn’t constitute a loot box. In fact, most of the stuff players get through loot boxes in most games featuring this kind of mechanic don’t give players a meaningful advantage on their own. But acquiring many of these items over time through opening more loot boxes absolutely does give a player some degree of advantage over players who don’t make use of them. John noted in his article how, despite playing intensively since August 2020, they’d only collected 309 of the 400 Swablu candies they needed to evolve a Swablu into an Altaria. Well, a player who doesn’t hatch is, long term, going to have less Pokémon to grind up into candies than someone else who plays identically to them but does engage with that mechanic. That’s a material advantage to the hatching loot box right there.

Secondly, John claims the hatching can’t be a loot box because you don’t have to spend money to hatch Pokémon. They base this argument off the fact you receive Eggs from PokéStops, that you have a free Incubator, and that you can occasionally find more Incubators at PokéStops. What they’re doing with this argument is essentially pushing the idea that it’s only a loot box if you’re always directly paying for the box itself. That’s simply a ridiculous argument. John may as well be suggesting that the Mann. Co Supply Crates in Team Fortress 2 aren’t loot boxes simply because you can’t directly buy the chests, only the keys. Ultimately, Pokémon GO’s Incubators are a key to the loot, the Pokémon, inside of the Egg. You may not need to pay for incubators in all instances, but you absolutely can pay for them. The gameplay loop outright encourages you to do so, by ensuring that you always have Eggs needing hatching. The system leaves the player feeling like they’re wasting opportunities for more Eggs and more Pokémon by not hatching all of the ones they have on hand. Each new Egg serves as another prompt to the player to consider buying an Incubator, to unlock the Pokémon inside the Egg all the sooner.

Finally, John makes the argument that, because it’s entirely optional to spend money, that Pokémon Eggs aren’t loot boxes. An argument that he defends by pointing to the grind of Pokémon GO, and how it takes a long time to do meaningful things. It just beggars belief that anyone would make a claim as ludicrous as this, or how anyone could be so entirely oblivious to how this same kind of line, that something is “just optional” and/or “only cosmetic”, has been trotted out by various groups for more than a decade in defence of exploitative microtransactions. That a game’s core gameplay loop requires an investment of time doesn’t make things better. Indeed, what John describes here is essentially how some of the most exploitative F2P games work, by encouraging if not outright psychologically manipulating players to pay up to skip at least part of the grind. Rather than implement a stamina mechanic to limit how long you can play (and encourage you to pay for more Stamina), Pokémon GO instead has created a system whereby the biggest limiting factor on your advancement is your ability to devote more time to the game. The more time limited you are, the less distance you can walk while playing. That means less ability to catch different Pokémon, less ability to hatch eggs, and less ability to visit PokéStops for the items needed to engage with both of those loot boxes. This encourages time limited players to spend money on items to reduce the amount of time they need to play. You don’t need to visit as many PokéStops if you can buy balls; You don’t have to travel as much if you can bring the Pokémon to you with Incense, Lure Modules, and (Remote) Raid Passes; and you can hatch more Pokémon in the same amount of travel distance if you’re hatching Pokémon quicker with more Incubators and/or Super Incubators.

Why it matters
The Pokémon franchise is enjoyed by people of all ages, but the primary target audience for these games has always been children. Children represent a particularly vulnerable consumer group. While most people would be aware at some level of ethical issues relating to how children’s see and process advertising messages such as junk food commercials during cartoons, that’s ultimately only a small part of children’s vulnerability. Of arguably greater concern are the overlapping influences on their consumption behaviour, including not just marketing messages and how they’re presented to them, but also nature of how different consumption activities and decisions are presented to them, as well as the attitudes and behaviour they observe towards those from their parents, their peers, other adults, and entertainment media, including video games.

Over the past decades, one issue that’s been particularly prominent in relation to children’s vulnerability has been gambling, and how it’s presented to children. To be clear, this isn’t a question of if things like games are somehow “glorifying” gambling behaviours. The issue is that the inclusion of gambling in games and in other media can serve to legitimize and normalize them for the children who are consuming them, and in doing so, can contribute to longer term gambling behaviour that can continue into adulthood. The Pokémon franchise is certainly no stranger to issues in this area. As a direct result of when the Pan-European Game Information (PEGI) organization implementing stricter guidelines that limited gambling to adult-oriented video games, the main series games Pokémon games have worked to phrase out the concept of gambling since Generation III. More recently, Pokémon Master’s EX continues to not be available in Belgium and The Netherlands due to falling foul of laws and regulations which equate loot boxes to gambling.

Thus far, Pokémon GO has managed to avoid the same sort of regulation. That may in part just be because the controversy surrounding the game has, understandably, focused more on the people who’ve died because they weren’t paying attention while playing, or they tried to go somewhere they shouldn’t IRL because they saw a Pokémon they wanted to catch there. But when John describes the Eggs as a “fun surprise”, all I’m hearing is that they’re a dopamine hit that are helping to condition children to see stuff like blind boxes and packets as something that’s totally normal and legitimate. The exact same psychological principles that apply to gambling apply here too. Pokémon GO’s catching, hatching and PokéStop mechanics all provide the exact same kinds of instrumental conditioning with variable-ratio reinforcement that we see in slot-machines and other forms of gambling.

Now, some parents reading this right now are probably rising up to say how they’re responsible, good parents, and how they’d never give in to this kind of exploitation of their children. A few of you may even be thinking about how you’ve used it as a teaching moment for them. To those people I say…. step back a moment. Because if you’re saying that a responsible parent doesn’t buy these things for their kids, you’re essentially calling all the parents out there who bought them irresponsible. And to me, that comes off as victim blaming. Loot boxes are no less psychologically manipulative and addicting as any other form of gambling.

Another way to think of it would be like this. When something’s “free” to you as a consumer, it’s frequently because you’re paying for it in a way that doesn’t involve an immediate transfer of money. Online, the most common example of that is when you get to use a website, platform or app in return for them being able to advertise to you. Frequently, you also need to give up some of your personal information to that organisation as part of the process, which might be used to improve their advertising targeting and make even more money off you. With F2P games featuring loot boxes, what you’re paying with is, effectively, your willpower. Every time you play the game, you give them more opportunities to attempt to persuade you to purchase the loot box. Some games are very overt about that, with lots of ads about various offers, in the same way that a casino is always going to be very up front in how it pushes information about the current jackpots on its slot machines. But that doesn’t mean that more subtle prompts, like Pokémon GO’s PokéStops, can’t be similarly as effective. There’s also a huge difference when we’re talking about this from the perspective of an adult player, and from children playing the game. Will your children have the same restraint as you might? There’s certainly more than enough horror stories out there of children who’ve spent thousands on their parents dollars on various mobile titles, including Pokémon GO. But even if your children can’t make the purchase themselves, will you have the same resistance when it’s your children pestering you to buy for them, as opposed to the game pestering you directly? Are you willing to take that gamble, with your children?

So the lesson for parents here is, if you want to give a kid a nice surprise, maybe buy them something like the Pokémon Nanoblocks? When your kids are getting a nice surprise, there’s no need for you to be surprised about what they’re getting yourself.

EDIT: The original version of this article stated that "you can obtain incubators through gameplay via PokéStops". This has been clarified to make clear this was only possible during certain rare events, and that they would more typically be obtained for free via level-ups.
Archaic Written by Archaic

Comments

MythicalMew
MythicalMew Mar 27, 2021
Great opinion article. You've hit the nail on the head.
One thing I noticed though, is the fact that you mentioned that you could get extra Incubators from Pokéstops. That's not the case unfortunately. (There was a one time event where you could get 1 use incubators daily from your first Pokéstop) You can only get extra incubators by leveling up (every 5 levels iirc) or by purchasing them from the shop. If you'd change that, I think more people will trust your opinion. ;)
Archaic
Archaic Mar 27, 2021
One thing I noticed though, is the fact that you mentioned that you could get extra Incubators from Pokéstops. That's not the case unfortunately. (There was a one time event where you could get 1 use incubators daily from your first Pokéstop) You can only get extra incubators by leveling up (every 5 levels iirc) or by purchasing them from the shop. If you'd change that, I think more people will trust your opinion. ;)
Thanks for that MM, not sure how that error made it through drafting. We've just updated the article to clarify that point.
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Norzan Mar 28, 2021
It really makes the fact that the Game Corner got the main series games regulated in Gen 4 and the Game Corner got closed in remakes of games that used to have it open (ORAS) more and more baffling, when some current pokemon games have literal gambling in them but don't get regulated.
Esserise
Esserise Mar 28, 2021
That a single Pokémon might not necessarily give a meaningful advantage on its own doesn’t mean that the acquisition of that Pokémon (through catching or hatching) doesn’t constitute a loot box.
Honestly, I wouldn't even be that charitable. I think there's a pretty clear difference between the quality of contents in 5k eggs (home to every plain old regional exclusive you've seen in your area 10,000 times) compared to 10k eggs (which usually contain very desirable, well-optimized, newly-added Pokémon, with the newest Pokémon - the ones that people will naturally be most excited to obtain - typically appearing at very low rates). At least, that was the case when last I played a year or so ago. For instance, if I recall correctly, when Litwick was first introduced, it was available only very rarely in the wild and through 10k eggs. It wasn't until that year's Halloween event that it received a boosted spawn rate. And even now, here's the Gamepress summary of it's playability:

"Chandelure is a fan-favorite from Gen 5, and has been blessed in Pokemon Go with a good moveset. Having superior stats to Gengar minus the Poison-typing makes Chandelure considerably more bulky and overall better, though Gengar is still narrowly better in Ghost-type DPS due to its moveset. It also competes with Blaziken in terms of Fire Type DPS, making it one of the best non-shadow/non-mega Fire Type Pokemon in the game."

As I said, this makes it well-optimized for battling (which I would argue can result in tangible advantages; you've got a somewhat better chance of beating raids with one or only a few people if you have the best and most powerful Pokémon, and being able to defeat raids with fewer people decreases your reliance on coordinated large group gatherings) and thus very desirable to players.

Not to mention the fact that Litwick, for example, is a 3-stage Pokémon, meaning that you'll need at least 125 Litwick Candy and a Unova Stone (which had very limited availability when I last played) to even get it to the point of being a Chandelure, at which point you would then need to pump even more Candy into it in order to make it as good as it can be. And with a rare Pokémon like Litwick, that Candy can be hard to come by. You either acquire (the aptly-named) Rare Candies and convert those into Litwick Candy, you walk with Litwick as your Buddy to receive 1 Candy for every 5k you traverse (you can lower this distance, but that also requires either spending money for a Poffin or a lot of physical work to max out Litwick's happiness for the day, or taking advantage of temporary events in which Buddy Candy distance is reduced), or you catch/hatch more Litwick, which isn't a very reliable option when they're so rare in the first place. I remember well the feeling of seeing someone in my local player group using a Chandelure or a Garchomp or other similarly rare 10k egg Pokémon in a raid hot on the tails of that Pokémon's introduction. Or indeed the satisfying feeling of being that person. That's the type of thing that motivates a person to keep trying to hatch that Litwick.

There's also the factor that, at least in my experience, Pokémon hatched from Eggs tend to have more consistently good IVs. Now, I'm not sure if there's hard data research behind that from groups like The Silph Road; if there's some kind of encoded floor on how low egg-hatched Pokémon's IVs can be, but at least anecdotally, I can say that because of their preferable IVs, most of the Pokémon that I would keep and raise up would be the ones from eggs or caught in raids, while Pokémon that I caught in the wild would typically be ground up into Candy.

Another little factoid I like to mention is Melmetal, and how a F2P player is supposed to obtain one (at the time of my last play date - obviously since then they've introduced GO-to-HOME transfers which allow you to open the Mystery Box, but the monetization of those transfers is a whole other discussion). Anyway, at the time, your only free opportunity to obtain a Meltan was by completing the 9-step "Let's GO, Meltan" Special Research, at the end of which you are guaranteed to catch a Meltan. Assuming you remember to use a Pinap Berry on it, you'll net a total of 6 Meltan Candy, out of the necessary 400 that are required to evolve it. But hey, you also received 5 Rare Candies as part of the Research, so let's assume you thought to save those and then converted them, giving you a total of 11 Meltan Candy. Now, the kicker is that Meltan's Buddy Distance for earning more candy is 20km per 1 Candy. In the most brutal scenario (as in, omitting any other Rare Candies you might obtain, and not factoring in events that reduce Buddy Distance requirements), you'll need to earn 389 Candy, at a rate of 1 Candy per 20km. Which means that you're looking at a total distance of 7,780km. In other words, about 4,834 miles. That's nearly a thousand miles longer than the Amazon River (3,977 miles). That's more than the radius of the Earth (3,958 miles). That's almost the distance from North America to Europe. That's 2% of the distance from the Earth to the Moon (238,900 miles), just to evolve one Pokémon.
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stufff
stufff Mar 29, 2021
"The one exception to this is the ironically named Mystery Box, where the only way to get additional uses is to transfer Pokémon from GO to Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu!, Let's Go, Eevee!, or Pokémon HOME. Of course, you need to have paid for those games to use this Mystery Box mechanic, so even if it's not a microtransaction you're still out of pocket for it."

While this was once mostly true (you didn't have to pay for the game yourself, just had to know someone with access to the game, they could give out mystery boxes to an unlimited amount of accounts), it is no longer true since the linking with Home, as you can make a basic Home account for free.

You also missed out on talking about how Raid passes are themselves a sort of lootbox. Although there is a skill element to it (beating the boss) and you are guaranteed the pokemon species you defeated, there are lots of other randomized rewards. For example, in beating the raid you are awarded 5 "packages" of random rewards which can range from mostly useless (potions and revives you can get easily by spinning stops) to very desirable (3 rare candy). You are guaranteed 5 packages but not the contents of those packages, so it is possible to get extremely lucky and get 5 packages of 3 rare candy (15 rare candy), or 5 packages of potions which you will probably just delete. The IV (stats) and shiny status of Pokemon are also random, different pokemon have different shiny rates, some have no shiny available, some have shinies available but Niantic "forgets" to turn them on so players waste passes trying for a shiny that isn't actually available. There was a recent post on reddit about players doing over 100 Rayquaza raids in one weekend to get shiny/perfect IV Pokemon, which adds up to a lot of money.
Sundown
Sundown Mar 30, 2021
Daily player here, long-time contributor to the pay-to-win gambling simulator. Can confirm all that was said in the article. I've been saying eggs are loot boxes since day 1. I'm a willing -paying- participant despite knowing this because it's fun to me, and I've been a part of the fandom/target audience since the early days of the anime. I play the game for my enjoyment (most of the time) and a feel like I get a fair benefit for what I pay into it (which is more than I care to admit, but still significantly less than several others I know).

That being said, I can positively confirm the game is hyper-addictive, predatory, and very much incentivizes people to pay to eliminate intentionally long grinding-based objectives that require an immense amount of time commitment. Playing this game at an 'optimal' level requires a trust fund.

You'll notice I crossed out 'simulator' in my first paragraph. This isn't a gambling simulator, it's gambling. It's a casino in your pocket filled with colorful characters from your childhood. That didn't stop me from hunting down ~150 Rayquaza this past weekend to power up my shundo to 51.

edit: I forgot to also mention quite literally the most obvious gambling mechanic of this game is trading and re-rolling the stats of an encounter. It's a literal slot pull that costs in game resources to play, and actually rolls a chance encounter to GET LUCKY. It's so blatant.
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D
Darth TNT Mar 31, 2021
You also missed out on talking about how Raid passes are themselves a sort of lootbox. Although there is a skill element to it (beating the boss) and you are guaranteed the pokemon species you defeated, there are lots of other randomized rewards. For example, in beating the raid you are awarded 5 "packages" of random rewards which can range from mostly useless (potions and revives you can get easily by spinning stops) to very desirable (3 rare candy). You are guaranteed 5 packages but not the contents of those packages, so it is possible to get extremely lucky and get 5 packages of 3 rare candy (15 rare candy), or 5 packages of potions which you will probably just delete. The IV (stats) and shiny status of Pokemon are also random, different pokemon have different shiny rates, some have no shiny available, some have shinies available but Niantic "forgets" to turn them on so players waste passes trying for a shiny that isn't actually available. There was a recent post on reddit about players doing over 100 Rayquaza raids in one weekend to get shiny/perfect IV Pokemon, which adds up to a lot of money.
Raids don't guarantee anything except some stardust though, not even the pokemon you're raiding for. That Pokemon still needs to be caught and while there are a lot of ways to influence your chances, whether you actually walk away with the pokemon is up to chance.

Raids are interesting due to the wording Niantic itself uses.
There are multiple stages:
1: You have the fight stage. The actual gameplay element.
2: Upon winning you're, like you said, awarded some rewards. You are guaranteed stardust and some random items. Ranging from highly desirable to decidedly less desirable items. At no point is it made clear what you can win.
3: Then you get the bonus round. Amusingly Niantic actually refers to catching as the bonus round. You get a chance to catch the pokemon you just raided. It's stats are random, the odds of catching it are random and it's shiny state is random. Shinies are highly sought after by many, but at no point is it communicated whether the target can be shiny or what your odds are.

The interesting part about the phrasing is that while we, the players, view catching the critter we raided as the main meat. Using the words "bonus round" implies that Niantic considers the stardust and the random items the actual reward. Which in turn makes raids the second most clearcut lootbox in the game. You pay for a raidpass in order to get some guaranteed stardust and a host of non guaranteed rewards.

As a final note, raids always give something. If you lose you get a pittance of stardust. The main defense use by lootbox reliant companies is that you always get something. Sound familiar?


I say raids are the second most clearcut lootbox, because there are 2 items which are 100% undefendable lootboxes. The incense and the lures. You can only get them through level up, extremely rarely via research or by paying. You're guaranteed to get some random spawns with no indication of how many, or their rarity. Don't forget, when Cherubi and Cryogonal originally launched you could only get them with a grass or ice lure respectively. A paid for item. And as stated there was no indication on your odds.



The annoying thing about the lootboxes in Pokemon Go is that I technically don't mind some of them. I don't mind that I don't get the odds of catching the legendary for example. I don't need an ingame table telling me how my golden razz and curved excellent ball gives me x% chance. That, imo, is part of the game and part of the fun. I originally didn't even mind eggs for all the reasons the defense squad tends to use to defend them. They were originally mostly optional and you could take your time. It's Niantic that made me resent them. The way they kept pushing them in time limited events. The way Silph Road discovered how they manipulated the odds during a few events. It's honestly appalling. You're playing a casino where the house changes the odds whenever they feel like it without saying anything. It's wow.
Niantic at this point is the posterchild on why Google Play and Appstore need to enforce their regulations.


I'll do you one better. Pokemon Go is in actual violation of the Belgium and Dutch gambling laws. Part of the most recent ruling was that the digital goods must be paid (have value) for, be random and be tradeable. Whether the market is black doesn't matter. This is why for example Fifa stopped selling points in those countries. Guess what's paid for, is random, has value and can be traded?
The day I quit playing is the day I send a message to the respective authorities, or maybe I should just do so regardless to bring this stuff to a head.
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icer
icer Mar 31, 2021
The article being responded to doesn't even distinguish the different types of eggs. When you spin Pokestops you randomly get 2km, 5km and 10km eggs, you want the 10km ones obviously. But the real bad value eggs and lootboxes are the 7km but more recently 12km eggs. It is these where they put rare Pokemon THAT CANNOT BE GOTTEN ELSEWHERE IN THE GAME but only at very low rates, and sometimes for a limited time only, such as the duration of an event. Some Pokemon in 10km eggs are not available elsewhere either. The original article refuses to acknowledge this, which makes me wonder how much they play at all?
"And yeah, like the obvious dealer analogy, it turns out you can get more, but now you’re going to have to pay. But, really crucially, you just don’t have to. In fact, it’s actually incredibly unnecessary to do so. While there are chances of hatching a particularly rare Pokémon at given times, those chances are so low, and the effort to hatch anything—walking at least a kilometer for the most generic eggs (when aided by a Super Incubator), and as far as 12km—means that there are invariably FAR BETTER WAYS OF FINDING THOSE MONSTERS ELSEWHERE. Honestly, anyone who is spending fortunes on incubators, then marching around vast distances days on end to try to hatch that Axew, is making some very specific life choices." (John Walker)

Also wild Pokemon can have any IVs but eggs have a guarantee of at least 10/10/10 IVs, and some candy of the relevant Pokemon upon hatching, far more than from catching a wild one. So if only you hatched the rare Pokemon you wanted it can be a good prize. Some Pokemon can ONLY be found in 10km, 7km and 12km eggs, not in the wild.

"The game’s eggs are a system that OFFER THE PLAYER NO MEANINGFUL ADVANTAGES, and all works perfectly well within the core game, without ever having to spend any money at all, frequently providing fun, surprising rewards." (John Walker)

Of COURSE they offer meaningful advantages: most of the best Pokemon for either raids or PVP hatch rarely from 10km and 12km eggs and sometimes 5km eggs, and since a hatch comes with candy helps to level up a Pokemon of that species even if the individual one hatched had mediocre IVs. The 'fun prizes' are not merely cosmetic, everyone knows that some Pokemon species are more competitive than others and having higher levels and optimal IVs make a difference. If you hatch more eggs you have more chances to get such Pokemon and an advantage, obviously. Occasionally you could hatch a shiny or a 100% as well. Even during the community days for Electivire and Magmortar, you could only get the shiny of their baby form from eggs picked up from pokestops/gyms during the event (c. 11am-5pm on that day).

7km eggs are sometimes in a gift you open from a friend when you have a free egg slot. The baby Pokemon are only found in these, not in the wild, and various regional forms that may or may not have been in the wild as well.

Niantic decided in 2020 that the pandemic when people are probably walking less and may have less money, was the perfect time to release 12km eggs. Let's explain how one gets one. TR infections of Pokestops are themselves random. Find and fight 6x Team Rocket Grunts, this gives you the radar to find TR executive. Find and fight TR executive and win WHEN YOU HAVE A FREE EGG SLOT. You get a 12km egg. Put it in an incubator. You can use the free one but it's going to tie it up for the entire 12km. Walk 12km. Then there are a range of Pokemon that ONLY hatch from this 12km egg. But it is most likely you will get rubbish. Literally. Someone at Niantic thought it'd be a 'fun surprise' to make a high probability a Trubbish will hatch instead. Transfer your Trubbish and try again.
Since 12km eggs are so awful, you will store some and if there is a reduced egg distance event use some paid incubators on them. This is why they make bad value eggs with such a long distance, even if one doesn't buy incubators normally people will during a reduced egg distance event to just get rid of them. And you aren't getting rid of them for a "Fun Surprise" of a Trubbish, even though the probability that when your eggs mass-hatch it will be very underwhelming is high. What confuses people is that the loot box system involves needing to open them to store more of them as well, so you buy 'keys', the key takes up to 12km to work, and then you probably are upset at another Trubbish rather than what you wanted, a typical lottery. You always want to get more loot boxes, since the probability that any single one contains what you want is bad, so you need to open them, and you can't throw them out either, so effectively you have to open them. The main defense of the egg system is that one can use it to some extent as a free player, in contrast to their increasing number of compulsory real-money events.
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Kadabra
Kadabra Mar 31, 2021
I disagree with your opinion piece.

Without getting unnecessarily long-winded, I'll just point out that you mention that even the basic pokemon catching mechanic is a loot box.
You're not technically wrong if you look at it so narrowly--but any reasonable player would see that that basic mechanic is not exploitative in any practical sense, and therefore it is not problematic.
And that is where your whole post falls apart; just because something can be technically defined as a loot box, it doesn't mean that that particular implementation is problematic, and it would be improper to equate it to the really exploitative implementations most games have.

The main issue with the Kotaku article is the clickbait headline, but I guess that's how cheap internet journalism works.
D
Darth TNT Mar 31, 2021
I disagree with your opinion piece.

Without getting unnecessarily long-winded, I'll just point out that you mention that even the basic pokemon catching mechanic is a loot box.
You're not technically wrong if you look at it so narrowly--but any reasonable player would see that that basic mechanic is not exploitative in any practical sense, and therefore it is not problematic.
And that is where your whole post falls apart; just because something can be technically defined as a loot box, it doesn't mean that that particular implementation is problematic, and it would be improper to equate it to the really exploitative implementations most games have.

The main issue with the Kotaku article is the clickbait headline, but I guess that's how cheap internet journalism works.
Unfortunately for you I am long-winded. :D
Everything is exploitable. Niantic can and will (and ultimately should) change spawn and catch rates. This in turn drives artificial scarcity and creates value to stuff like ticketed events, balls or even egg events.
If you're a player then surely you are aware of the abysmal catch rates on the Gen6 pokemon upon release. In case you aren't, as an example the route 1 common Fletchling had a catchrate worse then some legendaries upon introduction. This was later changed to be more in line with the other route 1 mon catch rates. There was no reason for this extreme breach in catch rate other than either a test to drive engagement or an actual attempt to abuse the stay at home orders active in a lot of countries and force people to buy balls. We obviously don't know which one is the real reason. The former I don't like but don't technically have a problem with, the latter however is downright disgusting.
I said should, because change is the spice of life. Niantic should do things like change spawn rates and catch rates based on situation. Take the community days for example where notoriously hard to catch pokemon get a boosted catch rate. This isn't communicated anywhere, but is super welcome and ultimately to the benefit of both Niantic and the player.

Like you said, the problem isn't necessarily the lootbox. It's how it's used. There are a lot of games that run fully on random (near lootbox) structures. The Main Series games run fully on randomized content. While sometimes annoying, no one bats an eye to that. The problem only arises when a company starts charging for things while abusing the trust of the player or start actively lying or changing rates without communication.

It's indeed easy to define basic catching as a loot box and Archaic makes a perfect case that is one. I never considered it to be one, but based on his explanation you do nothing but agree with it.
But is it a problem? For most people balls are plentiful, so I don't think it's a problem unless everything suddenly gets legendary catch rates. You can easily get them from stops, gyms, gifts and research tasks. Is it something that the company is focusing on to the detriment of the player? Well barring those insane catch rates on the Gen6 mons, no not really. On the other hand, they have also tested nerfing drop rates on the stops. Which ultimately caused some people to run out of balls.

The problem that follows is where do you draw the line? To the law (or store ToS) however that wouldn't matter. If it looks like a lootbox, acts like a lootbox and quacks like a lootbox then it is a lootbox and should be regulated as such.
Niantic's mistake is in inviting scrutiny by continually pushing the playerbase and that can be a dangerous game to play. Realistically I only want them to showcase full rates on raids (item and shiny odds), eggs (monsters and shiny odds) and incense/lures (monsters and shiny odds if applicable).
Everything else in my eyes is part of the "normal" gameplay loop and is generally open enough that the player isn't easily inconvienenced. But what I think is irrelevant.

But yeah that kotaku advertorial is dreadful.